Vancouver | Travel Guide
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Update October 4: Canada has reopened to fully-vaxxed visitors, including for holidays.
To enter Canada you need a negative molecular test within 72 hours of flying.
Now the traffic light list is gone, if you're fully-vaccinated you won't need a pre-departure test to come back to the UK, just a day 2 PCR test and the UK government's Passenger Locator Form. If you're not fully-vaccinated the old amber list rules apply - pre-departure test then 10 days' self-isolation with tests on days 2 and 8.
Children under 18 won't need to self-isolate but will still need to take the precautionary tests. Those aged 5-10 only need to take the day 2 test and those under 4 are exempt from any testing or self-isolation.
When you're there:
Approximately half of the Canadian provinces have additional internal restrictions to curb the spread of the virus. Vancouver, in British Columbia, has no additional restrictions. More details of local restrictions are on the Canadian government website.
Vancouver Travel Guide Overview
This is our Vancouver travel guide – the best place to find out the best things to do in Vancouver, as well as transport tips, advice on money and loads more.
Here's what you can expect from this Vancouver travel guide:
Firstly, some facts about Vancouver
Vancouver is located on the north west coast of Canada in the province of British Columbia. It's 142 miles north of Seattle, and more than 500 miles west of the Rocky Mountains and tourist hotspot, Banff.
Vancouver is one mighty metropolis of culture, with an outrageous amount of things to see and do in and around British Columbia's largest city, like nearby Grouse Mountain, Granville Market, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, Canada Place, Gastown and a whole lot more, which we'll cover a bit later on.
Every Vancouver travel guide, local or tourist will tell you what an eco-friendly and generally green place the city is. And with good reason – protecting the environment and making the city an easy place to live are principles that go back 150 years, when the early settlers first arrived. It's thanks to this mantra that Vancouver consistently ranks highly in cleanest and best places to live polls, due to low pollution, amazing health care and generally high living standards.
Having travelled to Vancouver, take it from us, we can genuinely see why. So, let's get on with this Vancouver travel guide...
International travel to Vancouver
Travelling to Vancouver from the UK is a doddle – here's how our trip to Canada went.
We flew from Gatwick airport, and our trip was made all that bit easier thanks to staying in an airport hotel the night before and leaving our car with one of our helpful airport car parks in the morning.
Having arrived at the airport and checked in, we made a dash for the Clubrooms airport lounge at the South Terminal, where we stocked up on breakfast, unlimited coffee and a few pastries before embarking on our 10-hour flight.
How to get to Vancouver from the airport
Vancouver International airport, or YVR, is fewer than 10 miles from downtown Vancouver and is Canada's second busiest airport, after Toronto Pearson International. Getting to the city centre from the airport, both by taxi or by public transport, is pretty straightforward. Here's what you can do.
Trains to Vancouver from the airport
The SkyTrain is Vancouver's above ground metro system which, like London's DLR, has driverless trains taking commuters across the city. It's roughly a 30-minute journey for less than $7 on the Canada line.
Getting to Vancouver by car from the airport
If you plan on hiring a car through us for your time in Vancouver, perhaps as a way of getting from the the airport to your hotel, the route is approximately 10 miles to the city proper and takes around 20 minutes in good traffic.
Alternatively, a taxi will cost around $45.
Hiring a car in Vancouver
If you plan to get out of the city and further into nature, hiring a car is a great idea. A popular route is to drive the famous Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler. It's only 120km and about a 90-minute drive and its well worth it for the spectacular views you can get. On the way up you can stop at the Sea to Sky Gondola - and when in Whistler you can check out the Olympic rings from the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
On the drive back make sure to come back with the Lionsgate Bridge for the most epic drive into Vancouver and through Stanley Park!
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Public transport in Vancouver
Getting round Vancouver by public transport is highly recommended - there's nowhere you won't be able to get to via one of the four great options:
- The SkyTrain
- Public buses
- The Sea Bus
We suggest getting a Compass Card if you're planning on using public transit throughout your stay - they also do day passes. These are valid on all public transit in metro Vancouver, or the greater Vancouver area.
How to use the Vancouver SkyTrain
Vancouver's metro system has three lines operating all over the city. They are the Expo line, the Millennium line and the Canada line:
The Canada Line is the route we took from the airport. The train goes directly north from Vancouver International to Waterfront, which is downtown Vancouver. The Canada Line also has another route which operates between Waterfront and Richmond-Brighouse stations in the south.
The Expo Line also has two routes serving the south-east areas of the city centre; Waterfront Station and King George are one route, and the other runs between Waterfront Station and Production Way-University Station.
The Millennium Line runs from east to west between VCC-Clark Station and Lougheed Town Centre Station.
Vancouver's public buses
TransLink buses run a continuous service throughout the day, with some express lines that make fewer stops so you can get about even quicker. Vancouver also has environmentally friendly electric trolley buses, or trams, that operate in a north-south direction on major routes through the city.
The Seabus is a pretty nifty way to get across the Burrard Inlet. The Seabus connects Lonsdale Quay to downtown Vancouver, offering some pretty awesome views of the the city skyline.
The journey takes less than 20 minutes, the ferry departs every 15 and it's clean and spacious.
Tickets for Vancouver public transport
The great news is that the same tickets will work on all of Vancouver's public transport, which makes life super easy when it comes to getting about seamlessly.
There are two things you need to know:
The price of a single journey depends on the zones you travel across - zone 1 costs $2.85 (£1.60), zone 2 is $4.10 (£2.30), zone 3 is $5.60 (£3.19). If you travel across zones, just add the prices together. For example, a journey from zone 1 to 2 will cost $2.85 (£1.60) plus $4.10 (£2.30) for a total of $6.95 (£3.90). Also, a 'single' gives you 90 minutes of unlimited journeys starting from the time you touch in on the first one.
A 24-hour unlimited travelcard will cost you $10, or $15 to include a journey to the airport.
Food in Vancouver
Vancouver is a paradise for any self-respecting food lover with no shortage of amazing places to eat. In fact, local foodies refer to Vancouver as the culinary capital of Canada - try saying that with a mouthful of poutine.
What is poutine?
Poutine is a traditional Canadian dish which is essentially meat-based gravy on fries dashed with lashings of chewy cheese curds. All you need to know is that it's delicious and can be found in pretty much any diner, as well as large chains like McDonald's.
Places to eat in Vancouver
As far as finding decent restaurants in Vancouver you won't be hard-pushed to find somewhere to chow down, like Steamworks Brewing Co. near Gastown and Waterfront. We highly recommend the pork and peach sandwich.
Vancouver Street Food
The street food in Vancouver is world class and one place to definitely check out is Granville Market. This thriving market lies south of Vancouver and is home to literally hundreds of amazing stalls, eateries and vendors selling high-end street food that includes everything from soda to sushi.
Our friends at Vancouver Foodie Tours told us to head to Lee's Honey Dipped Donuts, so we did. Now, we're telling you to go as well if you're after what can only be described as the fluffiest, chewiest and probably most delicious deep fried treat known to mankind. These donuts are delicious and reason alone to visit Granville Market.
Other treats are canadian smoked salmon bagels with cream cheese, capers and onions, and British Columbia cherries are their best during the summer and rival the good old British variety.
Granville Market is right on the False Creek inlet, meaning that there's a fair few seagulls looking to pinch a free lunch. Fortunately, there's indoor eating space and Granville Market is one of our favourite places to eat in vancouver.
Japanese food in Vancouver
As the gateway to the Pacific ocean, It's fair to say that Asian food has had a major influence on the gastro-scene in Vancouver and the sushi here is probably the best outside of Japan.
Japanese food is so popular that it's even merged with a popular North American staple. The unusual, but incredibly popular Japadog takes japanese delicacies and loads them on a hotdog. It's a funky fusion treat that just has to be tried.
You'll find vendors all across the city, each with a deliciously fused menu of hotdogs topped with seaweed, noodles and tempura prawns.
How to make the most of your money in Vancouver
The currency in Canada is the Canadian dollar.
Having been to Vancouver and spent lots of money and time there, we have to tell one of our favourite things about money in Canada – the penny is no longer in circulation, with products and services always being rounded up to the nearest 5¢. This is great if you hate carrying loads of change around.
What's a loonie?
You might hear locals talking about a loonie. No, it's not an insult, but the local term for a $1 coin, which bears the picture of a bird, the common loon, on one of its sides.
In French-speaking parts of Canada, you might hear this same coin referred to in its French translation, a huard. Other slang terms include bucks and another French term, piastre. Don't be confused, they're all the same thing.
Oh and a $2 dollar coin is called, yep, you guessed it, a toonie.
Do Canadian dollars smell of maple syrup?
Apparently Canadian dollars smell like maple syrup. However officials, including the Bank of Canada, deny that there are artificial fragrances added.
That being said, we put the rumours to the test and can indeed confirm that yes, they do smell like maple syrup. So there you have it, the word is out on that one.
Should you tip in Canada?
A lot of people might ask if tipping is as big of a deal in Canada as it is in the U.S and we can tell you that it is.
Unlike the U.S, where service workers rely on tips to subsidise their minimum wage, tipping in Canada is not compulsory as people here are paid higher minimum wages. This doesn't mean tipping isn't expected though.
It's fair to say that as a nation, Canadians pride themselves on their great manners and friendly attitude, especially in the service industries. By tipping poorly or not at all, say after a meal, you'd be telling the server that you received poor service and were massively dissatisfied, which is seen as a tad insulting.
Generally, 15-20% is a good benchmark, especially when it comes to restaurants. Hotel staff such as concierge, housekeeping and valet would also expect to be tipped, while 10% is a good guide for taxis.
If you see a tips jar on the counter on a shop, these are not expected in the slightest, though a great place to leave your loose change.
What's the weather in Vancouver like?
There's a reason Vancouver is sometimes referred to as 'Raincouver' - but don't let that deter you! Vancouver has nice warm summers and mild (if not rainy!) winters - though if you get out of the city to Grouse Mountain you'll be sure to find snow!
We visited in early August, at the height of summer, and the weather was absolutely glorious. It was hot, sunny and generally very beautiful - perfect weather for exploring Vancouver, sightseeing the major hotspots and being outside.
Being on the sea, expect coastal breezes in Vancouver all year round, though it's quite reasonable to be walking around in shorts and a t-shirt through the warmer months, and then layer up when winter hits
If you're after skiing in Vancouver and snow in Canada, then winter is your best bet.
In Autumn, Stanley Park is beautiful. In fact, Canada in general is beautiful in the fall, especially as the leaves start turning around October, plus the autumn months are the best time for hiking thanks to the cooler weather. Grouse Mountain in particular, lies north of Vancouver which is well worth the 1,200m trek (don't worry there's a gondola!) for a stunning view of the city. Don't forget that places like Banff national park are begging to be explored.
Of course, the best weather is from May to September during the spring and summer months.
In summary, we have to mention that there's a running joke among the Vancouver locals that say you'd be wise to carry an umbrella with you at all times, just in case.
Things to do in Vancouver
There's a ton of awesome things to do in Vancouver; attractions and places of interest include:
Stanley Park is an absolute must for anyone visiting Vancouver. And the best bit is that it's really easy to get there. Stanley Park lies north of Vancouver, and is ideal for walking, running, rollerblading and cycling along the 5.5 miles of promenade and seawall.
If you're after something a bit off the beaten track, there are also gravel and dirt trails for off-road biking and hiking.
Some of the surrounding hotels will offer free bike hire - or there are bike hire companies you can use - this really is the best way to get around the park at your own pace
Thanks to a forest of approximately 150,000 trees, this part of Vancouver is teeming with plenty of critters, so expect to see plenty of wildlife in Stanley Park, like raccoons, black squirrels, harbour seals, coyotes, bald eagles and bats.
Stanley Park is a designated national historic site of Canada and the world-famous totem poles mark the former settlement of a First Nations village. These ginormous colourful wooden structures are replicas of the original totems, which are currently being preserved in storage.
There is plenty of parking at Stanley Park, with clean toilet facilities and several coffee shops and restaurants to kick back and watch the world go by.
The Granville Island Public Market is a haven of shops, breweries, pop-up street food and even a water park.
We definitely recommend sparing a few hours to casually stroll the bustling market and grab a bite to eat. We also picked up plenty of traditional maple syrup to bring back to the UK, as well as plenty of snacks for the rest of our trip.
Granville Market is super popular with locals and tourists alike. If you want to real experience, definitely speak to our friends at Vancouver Foodie Tours for a real taste of the Vancouver food scene.
Once you've finished there it's also worth following the sea wall round to Kitsilano beach - it'll give you excelllent views of the city and Stanley Park and it's an area very popular among the locals.
We mentioned earlier how much of a multicultural city Vancouver is, and Chinatown is testament to the city being a friendly and diverse city that openly celebrates every walk of life.
For one thing, Chinatown is absolutely huge and is the place to find the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. It's open all year round, though times vary depending on the season, so be sure to check the website ahead of your visit.
A final thing about Chinatown; there are a lot of homeless people, which can be quite intimidating to even the most seasoned traveller. Travel in large groups, keep belongings with you at all times and try to avoid walking late at night through this borough.
Shopping in Gastown
Gastown is Vancouver's oldest town, founded in 1867 by an English settler, 'Gassy Jack' Deighton. It's the place to come for Victorian architecture, cobbled streets, the iconic steam clock, First Nations art galleries and generally plenty of charm. It's also the place for trendy boutiques and where to buy your souvenirs.
If you're hungry, North west of Gastown, near Waterfront Station, is Japadog - a japanese-infused hotdog stand which is definitely not to be missed.
Grouse Mountain SkyRide
Grouse Mountain is one of the North Shore Mountains overlooking Vancouver and is a great place to visit if you're after epic views. You could take the stairs - around 100,000 people do every year, but the Skyride gondola will let you climb that 850m incline without breaking a sweat.There are three types of ticket - Alpine, Peak and Ultimate Experience. Alpine is about $45 and will get you on the Skyride, entry to Lumberjack Shows, bird demonstrations, Ranger Talks at the Bear Habitat. Peak Experience is $49 and includes all this and entry to the chairlift ride and Ultimate Experience includes everything mentioned AND entry to the Eye of the Wind glass view pod and is $59.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
Probably one of the best tourist attractions in Vancouver is the Capilano Suspension Bridge; a breathtaking adventure that's definitely not to be missed!
Once you've braved the 140m walk along the suspension bridge, 70m above the river, you're met by plenty of things to see and do, like the tree-top bridges, birds of prey displays and the terrifying cliff walk.
Looking for more inspiration, information or a handy travel guide? You'll find more on our travel hub.
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